Barely a Book Club

Teetering on the edge of a normal book club

Post-Anna Post August 29, 2006

Filed under: Anna Karenina — antof9 @ 3:59 am

Since I was gone last week & will be gone next week, Kylle has kindly allowed me to post my random thoughts/questions about all things Anna.  The post is painfully long, but I’ve put my questions in bold.  And that’s the part I’d really like to have your thoughts on. ~Shanda

While I liked this book, overall I have to admit that it was unfulfilling in the sense that it was just too much to take in & unpack.   I marveled over & over at Tolstoy’s ability to connect with so many varying emotions, but the descriptions kind of disappear in the volume of the epic telling.  Maybe I just read it too quickly.  Once again, Oprah didn’t let me down.  I pulled two notes off the Oprah website which I thought were interesting.

1. “For Anna, the experience of love led to death; for Levin, the experience of death has led him to a new love of life. Levin is no stranger to the despair that overwhelms Anna and even contemplates suicide for himself, yet he goes on living—and making a life for himself that seems incredibly full.”

2. “When first editing the book for publication, Tolstoy’s editor refused to publish Part Eight—Tolstoy incurred the cost of publishing the last section of the novel himself. He still had something to say about the inner peace that eluded his tragic heroine but inconspicuously surrounded his unassuming hero.”  

Anna’s Death

First, the death of Anna didn’t play out the way I had anticipated…it just happened so quickly.  I’ve wondered quite a bit at the reasoning for why Tolstoy wrote the scene the way he did.  Specifically, Anna tries to jump once & misses. Then she has to wait & jump again.  I can understand this possibly emphasizing that the decision to commit suicide wasn’t a mere whim.  But in the moment that she’s about to die, she tries to save herself. 

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense in terms of the portrayal of Anna as trapped. For Anna, choices were no longer between good & evil, happiness or sadness – every decision was ambivalent at best. To me, this is the thing that kept me from liking Anna.  I never believed that her circumstances had trapped her, robbing her of her happiness.  I certainly believe that lots of people are trapped in impossible circumstances.  And I wouldn’t be so foolish or naïve as to think that every circumstance can be overcome.  To me, Anna’s choices and her attitude were making her miserable.  I never was sold on the idea that changing her circumstances would make her happy.  And her circumstances never justified her behavior to me. 

Of course, I’ve never been trapped in an unloving marriage or had an affair or had children that I felt indifferently about, so what do I know?  Question:  Did you sympathize with Anna?  What was your reaction to her behavior? 

Part VIII

I also enjoyed seeing into Levin’s thoughts in Part VIII – his loss of identity, his quiet despair & thoughts of suicide & the reconciliation of his faith.  Question:  At the very end, when Levin comes to a final reconciliation about God & faith, he questions whether or not he should share this with Kitty & then decides not to, even though he wants to.  I’m wondering if you felt that decision was justified & if you would act similarly or differently in similar situations. 

Part V

My favorite part of the book was chapters 14-20 of Part V.  I loved Levin’s thoughts on how the first 2 months of marriage had changed his live.  I just thought it was stated so beautifully. 

Levin had been married two months. He was happy, but not at all in the way he had expected to be. At every step he found disenchantment in his former dreams, and new, unexpected enchantment. He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not all sitting still, and floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant forgetting where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only easy to look at; but that doing it, though very delightful was very difficult.  

As a bachelor, when he had watched other people’s married life, had seen the petty cares, the squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart. In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of that sort; even the external forms, indeed, he fancied, must be utterly unlike the life of others in everything. And all of a sudden, instead of his life with his wife being made on an individual pattern, it was, on the contrary, entirely made up of the pettiest details, which he had so despised before, but which now, by no will of his own, had gained an extraordinary and indisputable importance. And Levin saw that the organization of all these details was by no means so easy as he had fancied before. 

And again, there’s so much there with the argument between Kitty & Levin about going with Levin to see his dying brother, his brother receiving Extreme Unction, the differing responses to Levin’s brother & his eventual death.  And then, Kitty’s pregnancy at the end of it all.

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4 Responses to “Post-Anna Post”

  1. Inspector Love Says:

    Shanda,

    I had the same reaction to Anna’s death as you did and it made me extremely dislike her character. I read this book 10 years ago, so I don’t remember the details. However, the one thing that stuck with me was my disappointment in Anna and in the ending of the book.

    In the beginning, I was seduced (metaphorically) by Anna’s character and I was actually supportive of her affair. I suppose I supported her rebellion of the oppressive social structure she lived in. Then, I lost all respect for her at the end. Her suicide seemed false because, you’re right, she had other options. Her life wasn’t so terrible that she could not change her circumstances. We were not given the impression that she was “clinically depressed” (to throw in some pop psychology). So, the suicide seemed ridiculous to me.

    I have to confess that I read this in high school for my English class. I asked my teacher about the conflict I had over Anna’s character. She said Tolstoy changed his mind about Anna and her behavior while he was writing the book. Since it was a serial, he couldn’t revise the beginning and this may be one reason why it’s such a jarring ending.

    Ultimately, this conflict is the reason why I have a love/hate relationship with the book. And the length… again, I agree that he could have cut out some of the indulgent passages not relating to the main plot. Yet, as my teacher pointed out, it was a serial and the more Tolstoy wrote, the more he got paid… once you put it in context, it makes a little more sense.

  2. Kylle Says:

    My problem with Anna is that she never really felt sorrow for the things she had done. In fact I think she saw everything as happening TO her, therefore it wasn’t really her fault. Sure her husband wasn’t very loving, but in the end was Vronsky? I think all of the big decisions Anna made in her life were split second. She wasn’t one to ponder the ramifications…ie. jumping on the tracks.

    As for Levin I always felt like he believed Kitty to be kind of weak and stupid. But that could just be the time period.

  3. Shanda Says:

    IL – Interesting. I’ll have to do some further research on Tolstoy’s changing opinion of Anna.

    Kylle – I love the point you raised about Kitty/Levin. I’d be interested to hear what others in the group thought about this. Maybe you can bring this up on Sat? I HATE to miss the good stuff!

  4. cobookclub Says:

    Answers to Shanda’s questions…
    1. Most people that they agreed that there was a loss of respect for Anna and that death was not really her only option.

    2. Sam believed that to keep Kitty’s naivety he withheld how he really felt and it wasn’t issue of whether she could handle it or not.


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